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Sunday, April 13, 2014

Promoting health and well being has different meanings for different people. For me, it means having a clean diet, using chemical free products for skin care and house cleaning, doing yoga or pilates and getting quality sleep.  For my

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Not All Children Are Gifted. Stop Perpetuating the Fallacy.

The statement all kids are gifted gets thrown around a lot like here or the not too dissimilar thought Seth Godin tried to perpetuate stating that we can learn to be gifted if we practice and it is entirely offensive and ignorant.  Not all kids are gifted and gifted shouldn't be a bad word but it is because parents of neurotypical kids are internalizing and incorrectly assuming it means smart, straight As and easygoing.  Really? I am raising two profoundly gifted boys one of whom is a prodigy and nothing about them or our life is easygoing. My kids are not straight A students. My kids are so completely different that school does not even apply to them.  Their brilliance is undeniable and awesome and I would never change a thing but they are very far from "normal." They actually canNOT thrive in school because school is designed for "normal" kids. You know those kids who have friends and play sports and like popular TV shows and music.  "Normal" kids who have sleepovers and eat all sorts of foods and can go to amusement parks and get along well with others. "Normal" just isn't enough for "normal" parents. "Normal" parents want to be able to say that all kids are gifted.  The fact is that most kids are "normal" and every day life is designed for "normal" people.

While all children are gifts, not all of them are gifted. We, as a culture, love to embrace a talented artist and we cherish athletic prowess but we show disdain for an intellectually gifted child.  Giftedness in children should be nourished and cultivated as they are the ones that will develop cures for cancer, invent useful products, discover unique methods for sustainable living, create innovative technological advances and inspire future generations to excel.

Well, I will tell you what gifted really is. Gifted is neurological wiring in the brain that lasts a lifetime. Gifted is neuroatypicality kind of like how Autism is neuroatypicality.  Gifted means that your entire experience of the world is qualitatively different from the norm. Gifted means that your child will likely never fit in at school, will be misunderstood by teachers and likely pathologized and punished. Gifted means that making and keeping friends will be infinitely harder and everyday life will be challenging and bizarre.  

Gifted means asynchronous development which means that gifted children are many ages at once.  A gifted child may have an intellect several years higher than their physical age, the emotional regulation and physical dexterity of a child several years younger than their age with the social desires of a child their chronological age all trapped in one body.  This is a gifted child's reality every day.  The mind may have brilliant thoughts trapped in a body that cannot execute them well.

Parents of gifted children are shunned if they talk about their child's accomplishments publicly instead of celebrated.  When we talk about what our children are doing it is not meant to minimize what your "normal" kid does just like when you talk about your kid's successes we don't try to belittle them. Parenting is not a competition.  We are all on a different journey and parenting a gifted child is a bumpy and confusing experience and no one size fits all parenting book or educational approach applies.  Gifted kids are the outliers, the odd birds, the kids that march to the beat of their own drum, the ones that get teased on the playground and bullied by their teachers.  Gifted is not easy. It is joyful at times and completely baffling at others.  Gifted does not represent everyone much like everyone isn't Autistic. It is belittling to those who are given the challenge of raising these unique children where everyday is unpredictable. Gifted requires a modification in parenting, education and often includes special counseling.

Gifted means that my child will never have a "normal" life. Gifted does not automatically equate with success. While it is true that some gifted people are successful, many have so many emotional issues like depression and anxiety that prevent them from fully realizing their potential. Gifted means that you always feel different from the majority of people you come across and not everyone embraces different.  Gifted means that you are rarely going to follow rules and tow the line which makes gainful employment difficult.   When giftedness is cultivated in a supportive environment then a gifted child may flourish but sadly, because of our culture's disdain for gifted children and the lack of support they receive in schools, many gifted children do not lead happy, productive lives and that is a tragedy.  

Do you still think all children are gifted?

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Unschooling Tweens...Let the Confusion Begin

The unique journey of raising a profoundly gifted tween who has the mind of a brilliant adult trapped in a young child's body with the emotional regulation of a teenager and the separation anxiety of a preschooler is not for the faint of heart.  Having a child who has been accepted to college at a young age without the emotional maturity or desire to pursue it makes every day more complex than your average kid. Many kids by the age of 10 long for their independence and desire to have the ability to stay at home alone from time to time. Not my kid. We would love for him to want to stay at home and work on his own projects versus having to drag him to places he doesn't want to go to but no such luck.  Every now and then he will tell me that he is over his fear of being alone and that my husband and I can go out on a date while he and his brother stay home and watch a movie.  We tried this once.  He facetimed me the entire time while we ate at a restaurant two minutes away just in case we had to rush home.  Sure, this may change in a few years but he is entirely responsible and trustworthy and, in my eyes, capable of a short stay at home right now. He feels differently about it. This is a kid who needs some adult in the house but definitely doesn't want us to tell him what to do nor does he want us to be right near him much of the time.  He likes together alone time.  The push pull of needing parental guidance coupled with a great desire for autonomy is omnipresent.

He has recently taken on the initiative to teach and inspire his younger brother with such enthusiasm that demonstrates his leadership abilities and his desire to teach in an effective and patient manner. I love this.  The next moment he needs his space and we give it to him...the whole downstairs has become his domain.  I feel like we are living with a moody teenager already at times.  His time is his own and he uses it as he sees fit.  He isn't waiting to become an entrepreneur...he is one now. 

His personality is pradoxical. He is a tree hugging hippie and fiscally conservative Libertarian who urged me to vote for Mitt Romney in 2012.  He is unmotivated by money but always needs the newest and most sophisticated technological devices.  Huh? My head spins regularly in a state of confusion over just how bizarre and unique this human being is that I have spawned. He is a focused, determined kid with ideas of changing people's lives for the better and he is constantly evolving. Just when I think I understand who he is and what his passions are he completely flips the script. 

He doesn't do superficial and he doesn't care about what the outside world thinks. In this way he is unlike typical tweens/teens who are heavily shaped by their peers, environment and pop culture.  Then again, nothing about this kid is typical. I would imagine since we are unschooling that the approaching teen years should be very different than those who are influenced by peer pressure culture.  He is staunchly authentic.  He is also a very sensitive and deeply engaged person who requires depth of conversation and complete honesty.  Our communication is pretty open and truthful now and I am constantly working to keep it that way.  He is also a very cautious and highly moral kid so I am thinking that the teen years may be smoother than what I would have previously expected.  Are you shaking your head yet at my optimism?  

Having a kid that ages out of K-12 school at a very young age brings with it a very different experience of what the future holds.  Presently, he is multiple ages at once with no handbook to guide us through this path.  He self educates which I am confident he will continue to do throughout his life and there is no educational planning that occurs in our household.  There is no preparing for college or SAT testing or any of the traditional mainstream milestones that many families with teenagers face in our future.  We do not suscribe to standardized testing and he has already had a taste of college academics.  There is no section at the bookstore that can help you along the way when your child is at the upper end of intellectual extremes coupled with a subversive approach to education.  There will be no college experience for him where he studies and enjoys the culture that goes along with being free for the first time at 18. He is free now.  

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Monday, March 10, 2014

Change the Environment. Not the Kid

The majority of public and private schools in America follow a traditional pedagogy which focuses on fact accumulation, rote memorization and teacher led instruction which suits one type of child--the auditory sequential learner.   Generally, traditional schools favor children who learn in small, incremental, sequential steps leading eventually to bigger ideas and concepts.  Educating a gestalt (right brained dominant) learner who needs to see the whole picture and fill in the smaller parts on their own in an auditory sequential (left brained dominant) environment can be highly detrimental to the child not to mention painfully boring. Children with almost any learning style(s) other than auditory sequential will not learn optimally in a traditional classroom environment. When a child is not learning well then one should determine whether the teaching style is a fit and whether the environment is conducive to the child's overall needs.  

Change the environment...not the kid.

Unschooling allows a child to learn at his/her own pace, capitalizing on their own learning style. What makes unschooling such a great fit for gifted children in particular is that asynchrony and overexcitabilities (OEs) will not interfere with meaningful learning.  Gifted children who are high in asynchrony with multiple OEs can rarely get their needs met inside the confines of a classroom.  Unschooling a gifted child creates an optimal learning experience in a customized environment that is entirely tailored to their unique needs.  A child high in sensual OE may struggle with clothing that is uncomfortable, lights that are too bright and noises that are a disturbance all which affect their learning inside a classroom.  All of these interferences are able to easily be accomodated inside a warm, loving home environment.  A child high in psychomotor OE will need the freedom to move around, fidget, talk excessively and focus diligiently on passion areas all of which would be seen as a nuisance within a school setting and the child will likely get an ADHD label quicker than the teacher can contact you to complain about your in motion child. Imaginational OE will easily get pathologized as ADHD (inattentive type) as nobody likes a day dreamer especially when there are tests to prep for.  There is very little room for emotionality in school so the child high in emotional OE will likely repress their true feelings and may become withdrawn, depressed or told that they are being overdramatic and don't forget to slap on an autistic label if such child is prone to melt downs over seemingly trivial issues.  And lastly we have intellectual OE which takes a gifted child to that extreme of intellectualizing anything and everything to the point that most adults get exhausted and they tune out so that their heads won't explode.  It is not that unschooling is the only option for a gifted child but for some of us it sure feels that way.

Sometimes people are surprised that my children are truly in the driver's seat of their own education.  Even those that understand my child's extreme intellectual needs, cannot wrap their head around the fact that if he doesn't want to do something then he doesn't have to do it.  He has the freedom to stop anything at anytime or to never start something despite having a natural propensity for it. There is tremendous freedom in determining that which you spend your time doing, learning, experiencing and creating.  When you think your child is wasting their time on something, remember that gifted children are always making connections that serve them even if it doesn't make sense in the moment.  Trust in the process and let go of expectations of what your day, week or unschooling year looks like.  Guide without coercion, facilitate, support, embrace their choices and follow their lead. You will be surprised where they take you.

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Saturday, February 15, 2014

Unconditional Unschooling

How does one keep unschooling month after month, year after year? Don't you need a break?  Don't your kids have to learn certain subjects?  That latter question is a particular pet peeve of mine but my responses change over time and are definitely mood and audience dependent.  Here it is. I will lay out how unschooling works 24/7/365. We are living, learning, growing and enjoying freedom.  How does one measure when that should end and why would you want to?  When every day is a Saturday in summer with no forced requirements then every day becomes quite joyful and easy. Well, maybe not easy but certainly free from restriction.  We keep unschooling because we love freedom to think, learn, play, dress, eat, sleep, speak, act, read, cuddle and enjoy what we want, when we want for however long we want and then completely change on a dime. We keep unschooling because it just means living freely and authentically with boundless choices coupled with the time to delve into new areas of interest. We keep unschooling because we cannot imagine living any other way. Once you go down this road and educate yourself on the perils of compulsory schooling versus the benefits of meaningful learning, there is no going back.

We keep radical unschooling because we believe that our children are autonomous beings capable of making choices that affect their lives and improve their self concept.  We keep radical unschooling because raising children with an authoritarian parenting style makes me disheartened for all the children out there suffering at the hands of a dictatorship style of parenting.  We keep radical unschooling because even if my beliefs were more mainstream, my kids' needs certainly are not.  We keep radical unschooling because happiness, learning, honoring unique needs is just who we are.  We keep radical unschooling because we keep living and learning.

As we learn. we evolve and that growth determines the trajectory of our day, week, month and year until it doesn't because our lifestyle takes so many twists and turns. Just when you think you have a flow to your unschooling journey, kids and life will take you on a roller coaster ride of emotions, change and stagnation all at once.  I am constantly reevaluating what our rhythm is and how creative, productive and happy we are.  Generally, our life works well for us but there certainly are moments that make you question everything. That is fine. Questioning is welcomed in the house of autonomy.  We don't adhere to any status quo.  My kids are definitely showing me who I am.  My strong-will and odd quirks, which have always been a lot to take for some, emanate from my bizarre and complex progeny. The more complex the child, the more likely alternative education will be the only available choice. What happens when you head down this path; however, is once you appreciate the freedom to do that which pleases you, then the idea of going back to anything institutionalized seems terrifying and counterintuitive. Suddenly believing in the system of school is not a likely outcome once you delve into true, interest led learning.  

When you no longer believe in resorting to bribes to affect behavior and the thought of grades and standardized test measures make you cringe, then unschooling becomes a welcomed choice.  When you have ditched rewards and punishments as a way to get children to comply and you do not believe that adults have all the power, then mainstream parenting and educational choices cease to resonate.  You will never see optimal performance, learning or interest when a child is apathetic to a task.  Meaningful learning only happens when it is intrinsically motivated not coerced or rewarded with a grade or other external motivator. A child has to want to do the work and be interested in it.  Scolding a kid into doing something they do not care about has both short term and long term negative effects.  Forcing a child to do academic work on your terms in a rushed and punitive manner is not only going to push the child away from natural learning but it will also negatively affect the parent child relationship.  When you no longer believe that any adult should be able to exert control over your child or try to coerce them into doing or believing something just because that adult wants them to, then radical unschooling naturally becomes a way of life. I question everything I used to believe in.  I am constantly unschooling myself and learning how important it is to provide children with unconditional love which is much easier to practice when I am the primary influencer in my children's lives.  So, we keep radical unschooling because that is who we are and this is our life.

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Thursday, January 30, 2014

Unschooling - Passion Driven Learning

Unschooling for us really is synonymous with passion driven learning. The passions come and go but while they are hot, they are heavily supported and well developed.  The current obsession is Spider-Man, writing screenplays and making fan made movies.   When I say obsession, I may be underestimating our current situation.  L, programmer, hacker, jailbreaker, has always been one to delve deeply into any area of interest.  He is an autodidactic dream because there is no stopping his natural desire to learn anything and everything about whatever the interest is.  My main task is to figure out how best to support it.  The content changes. The research, learning and knowledge acquisition is all encompassing.  

Every day we joyfully experience the benefits of how non adherence to traditional standards ignites genuine interest in learning and creating. Self-education, based on natural desire, is intrinsically motivated, authentic and meaningful.  As unschoolers we choose to follow our interests and passions no matter what they are and how often they change. The point of all this is that self directed learning allows the creative mind to wander wherever it needs to go.  Parents and educators in mainstream society have come to believe that all children of a certain age must learn a very specific set of facts generally in a prescribed manner and at the same age. 

"Self-education, based on natural desire, is intrinsically motivated, authentic and meaningful."

Children are individuals with different interests and learning styles.  Unschooling allows for myriad ways of learning with no ceiling.  When we let go of societal expectations and realize that children are: born curious, true learning is everywhere, and life provides us with enough organic, meaningful lessons, then one no longer views school as the place for kids to get an education.  Hmmm, where do I "get an education?" Even that statement demonstrates the passive recipient style of imparting information that dominates the school system.  Unschooled children have ownership over their own learning rather than having to experience what other people think is relevant being forced onto them while they sit still and shut up.  I am raising independent thinkers who challenge the status quo and think divergently.  Living with kids who are encouraged to question everything and challenge traditional thoughts makes every day a unique adventure in life learning.

Self directed, passion driven learning looks different for each family.  For some it means taking a lot of field trips, attending classes and incorporating a lot of nature.  For us, it means a great deal of technology, media, reading and real world discovery.  I am a huge proponent of having a prepared environment with easy access to compelling materials.  Our home is flooded with graphic novels, puzzles, building toys in general and Lego in particular.  Our field trips tend to be trips to the library, book stores, mobile stores, the Apple store and comic book stores.  

As unschoolers with no adherence to mainstream standards, having engaging toys, books and games around is essential.  Strewing (scattering items all over in an unorganized fashion) is a favorite of mine to spark potential interest which can extend from the house to the car.  One cannot underestimate the power of a prepared (or strategically cluttered) environment for children to play, learn and develop their curiosity.  Play is integral to learning especially for younger children and should be embraced with as much enthusiasm and support as academic learning.    

Following your child's natural interest is an essential part of unschooling which can then be fostered through supportive resources to help satiate that child's interest.  The key part is to make sure, as an adult, that you embrace your child's interest without inserting your own agenda or expectations. Part of being supportive and fostering independent learning is to understand your child's preferred learning style which may differ across content areas. Children may be incredibly enthusiastic about a topic for a day, a week or a year. There is no prescribed amount of time that makes an endeavor worthwhile.  Once a child has satisfied a particular interest, they are prepared to move on. They may come back to their previous passion areas in the future or make new connections with their knowledge and apply that to the next interest area. Years may go by before an interest becomes appealing again (Spider-Man); however, when it does it is generally tackled in an entirely different manner and with more depth.  

The freedom of unschooling is that you do not have to measure what your children have learned, nor do you have to determine whether you or society finds merit in it.  The power and ability to learn independently is one of the most important tools necessary for our future problem solvers.  Don't worry about fact accumulation or topic worthiness. Focus more on the process.  The process of critical thinking, creativity, perseverance and problem solving all of which are subject neutral and integral to a budding autodidact.  These are essential general disciplines that will be paramount for the current and future generations in our ever evolving world. 

If your child espouses most or all of these content neutral skills, then that child will be prepared for any type of career he desires.  In school, they teach fact accumulation, rote memorization, regurgitation and external measurement to determine merit.  Most of this content specific, top down education will have no relevance in the future.  Sadly, schools de-emphasize problem solving, critical thinking and creativity in the face of standards based testing to ensure a homogenous society of mediocrity.  

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Sunday, December 15, 2013

Gifted, now what?

Who I am today makes me realize just how clueless I was for so many years.  As a new parent I read every parenting book recommended to me that was about positive parenting.  I also read all the ridiculous books about parenting and sleep training that were extreme and more about disciplining babies. I read them all, took what made sense to me and created my own approach of how to parent my kids which was always pretty left of center.  What was missing from my online research, copious books and mommy and me classes were books and articles related to gifted issues and alternative educational choices.  I had NEVER entertained the idea of homeschooling and I am quite sure I had never even heard of unschooling, let alone radical unschooling.   Back then I ran a tight ship especially in terms of our rigid sleep schedule so I would imagine that I would mock those who talked about unschooling much like those who question our unschooling lifestyle now do.

So, here I am today realizing just how ignorant I was and envious of those moms who know right away that homeschooling is right for their gifted child. I wish I knew and I often wonder what could have been.   To avoid becoming a cautionary tale like my son was becoming, I would urge parents of gifted children to strongly read the definition of what gifted is and heed the words at the end:

       Giftedness is asynchronous development in which advanced cognitive abilities and heightened sensitivity combine to create inner experiences and awareness that are qualitatively different from the norm.  This asynchrony increases with higher intellectual capacity.  The uniqueness of the gifted renders them particularly vulnerable and requires modifications in parenting, teaching and counseling in order for them to develop optimally. (Columbus Group, 1991)

Let us break this down so we can really understand what gifted is.  There is a strong emphasis on the word asynchrony which is the key to understanding the unique nature of what gifted children are like.
Asynchronous development is one of the most challenging and confusing parts of the gifted child. Gifted children develop unevenly across various domains, in different areas and at different rates with no constant regularity.  Asynchrony is essentially disequilibrium.  A child may be chronologically 8 with a scientific and mathematical mind equivalent to that of a college student; the writing skills of a 7 year old; athletic abilities of a 5 year old and the social emotional range of a toddler to 13 year old.  Gifted children are many ages at once and it can be confusing for the child, parent and teacher.  Along with the joys of asynchrony, there are overexcitabilities that create an additional layer of intensity in the home and elsewhere.   Gifted children are highly sensitive and extremely intense in their range of emotions, interests and abilities.  The greater the level of advanced intellectual development a child espouses as compared to his physical development, the more challenging an experience navigating though social life and school can be.  This is where the modification in parenting and teaching really come in to play.  This is also why alternative educational options like homeschooling/unschooling work so well for highly asynchronous gifted children.  When a child has disparate abilities, a traditional one sized fits all curriculum approach will likely not work well.  Not only is the curriculum likely to be a mismatch for an exceptionally gifted child, but the ability to find a true intellectual peer is also going to prove difficult in a traditional school classroom.

The scatter of abilities inherent with asynchronicity can be overwhelming for a child who is required to fit into an environment (school) designed around chronological age restrictions.  Homeschooling/unscholing allows one to tailor make an education customized to match the highest abilities while accommodating the areas that need remediation or simply more time to develop.  For many gifted children, and boys in particular, writing skills often lag behind other areas which can cause much undue frustration for the perfectionist child who may internalize their struggle and consider themselves dumb.  Writing is such an integral part of a traditional school day and can really put undue pressure on a young, developing mind whose thoughts race far too quickly for his body to execute efficiently.  Writing relies on fine motor control, organizing thoughts, holding ideas in one's mind, engaging both left and right sides of the brain and physical coordination.  For a child with underdeveloped motor coordination and executive function challenges, writing can be a daunting undertaking.  A wonderful modification for a child with writing challenges is to transcribe for them, have them use dictation software or try an audio recording app.  Fortunately, talk to text type software is readily available and some believe it is the future of communication such that even keyboarding will become irrelevant.  This is but one example of how a customized learning environment can be supportive for an asynchronous child or a twice exceptional child who might otherwise be held back from reaching their true potential because of one area that lags behind their advanced cognitive development.

Gifted children require a modified educational approach as the definition states.  There are so may different learning styles and approaches to education that there is no one style that will work well if applied in the same way to all high ability children.  This reality sheds light on why many families with gifted children choose homeschooling/unschooling for at least some part of the child's education. 

We started our alternative educational journey by deschooling for months which naturally evolved right into radically accelerated unschooling.  For us, there is no other way.  Our life changed dramatically and for the better.  Our days probably do not look like anyone else's because we do not prescribe to any common educational standards.  Through seeing the marked improvement in my oldest child, who endured a handful of years stuck in the system, having evolved from behavioral problem to child prodigy in a matter of months, I am able to relinquish antiquated thoughts about what education should look like.  Our beliefs have changed.  Our lives have improved.  We do not believe in institutionalized learning and we do not compare our day to what others are doing.  My kids enjoy their days learning that which interests them.  Delight driven, self directed education is what we embrace fueled by a tremendous amount of technology and media. They are creative and inventive, motivated and productive, delightful and challenging and most of all they are happy.  Our approach is very extreme and may not seem plausible for many but for those with creative, motivated children who are carnivores of knowledge it is an ideal solution to combat the sentiment, "I hate school.  I am bored."